A Healthy Organization: What It Is and How to Have One

June 21, 2022
A Healthy Organization: What It Is and How to Have One

Well-being has been at the heart of human resources and company culture conversations for years. And it makes sense! Employee well-being is crucial for an organization's success. As McKinsey explained in 2018, “workplace stress is exacting an ever-higher physical and psychological toll. It adversely affects productivity, drives up voluntary turnover, and costs U.S. employers nearly $200 billion every year in healthcare costs.” With these kinds of costs hanging in the balance, it’s no wonder why employers have (rightly) been investing in ways to boost employee well-being. These efforts have taken the form of everything from encouraging a better work-life balance to shifting to a 4-day workweek. Other efforts include subsidizing gym memberships and bringing well-being perks like meditation and yoga classes into the office. Of course, an organization is the result of the employees who comprise it. But any company or organization is also its own entity in many ways. Even a company composed of the healthiest, most balanced employees is still subject to the systems and culture that the company itself creates. That’s why taking a holistic, enterprise-wide approach to creating a healthy organization is a critical addition to employee well-being initiatives.

The healthy organization has become popular since the pandemic

After the pandemic hit, the Josh Bersin Company researched what it took to truly create a healthy organization. In 2021 they published their findings that are laced with insights. As the report explains, “The goal of creating a completely healthy organization is too broad to be attained by adding a set of benefits and well-being programs.” It continues to say, “Rather than simply applying a health-centric lens, building a healthy organization requires a top-down focus on job and work design”. This is alongside “a sense of psychological safety and fairness, and a commitment to listening to employees.” Ultimately, the group writes, “a healthy organization can find ways to make everyone feel supported. It is an organization that thrives under stress.” Maybe this sounds like something you’re close to obtaining already and you’re curious about how to clear the final mile. Perhaps this is an entirely new, but enticing, concept to you that you’d like to learn more about and apply. Maybe you’re just looking to learn more in an effort to decide what’s right for you. Whatever the reason, here’s a crash course in healthy organizations: What they are, how they work, and how you can get started implementing 1.

What is a healthy organization? Making the mindset shift

In 2013, researchers published a paper on the healthy organization construct. The researchers defined a healthy organization as 1 that “proposes that, along with the profits, employees' well-being should also be an important goal for organizations.” If this sounds like what you’re doing already by focusing on employee well-being, you’re not wrong. The thing with healthy organizations is that they’re not incredibly far off from what many companies are doing already. But the mindset shift is important. A healthy organization understands that employee well-being is just as important as profit, not that employee well-being is merely a contributor to a profitable organization.

Consider these key indicators of a healthy organization

What is healthy and critical for 1 organization isn’t going to be exactly the same for every other business. All businesses big and small are unique. But in general, there are a few hallmark signs of a healthy organization:

Quality leadership

Supportive and empathetic leadership that sees their employees as the human beings that they are above all else is important for a healthy organization. You can subsidize gym memberships and offer yoga classes all you want. But if your company’s leaders don’t understand that they’re leading people not just workers, it’s all a moot point.

Supportive and empathetic leadership that sees their employees as the human beings that they are above all else is important for a healthy organization.

“When the leadership is perceived to be healthy and it supports effective balancing of people and productivity concerns, they tend to create an engaging place to work for employees and greater returns for the organization,” the paper’s authors write.

A collaborative and interactive company culture

“Healthy organizations foster a culture of greater interaction and collaboration,” the paper explains. “Employees and managers readily offer their assistance to each other to meet business objectives.” This means that a focus on learning, openness to new experiences, and the encouragement of responsible risk-taking are ideal for company culture.

Good job quality

This refers to things like having a manageable workload, a clear role, and a sense of control, job security, and flexible work arrangements. These elements give employees the security they need to focus on work and the flexibility they need to meet the demands of their work and personal lives.

Responsible HR practices

Having the right management processes and practices across organization-wide systems is critical for a healthy organization. This reduces favoritism and creates continuity across all sections of the company. Ensuring that there’s someone who is taking a systems approach to the company with an eye toward HR is important for a healthy organization.

What are the benefits of a healthy organization?

One of the biggest boons of a healthy organization is the attraction and retention of top talent. There’s a reason why websites like Glassdoor exist — people want to know what it’s really like to work somewhere. Especially when it comes to younger generations who are expecting more in the way of balance and well-being from their jobs, a healthy organization is mission critical. Imagine a candidate comparing offers from 2 companies. One takes the health of the organization and the people who compose it seriously. On the other hand, the other company might be doing more lip service than action. Which 1 would you choose?

How does a healthy organization relate to employee well-being?

A healthy organization and employee well-being are related but not the same thing. The Josh Bersin Company explains it like this:

Level 1:
Well-being practices are focused on employee safety.

Level 2:
Well-being practices are expanded to encompass employee well-being as we know it today.

3rd Level:
Well-being practices focus on healthy work. This means a manageable workload and managers who are keyed into ensuring that their teams work well both internally and externally.

Level 4:
Well-being practices encompass the whole company, resulting in a healthy organization. This means that healthy and effective practices aren’t manager-specific. They’re found (and prioritized) throughout the company.

How do I start building a healthy organization at my company?

It can be daunting to think about transforming your entire company all at once. Luckily, that isn’t what you have to do. A healthy organization is a compilation of several small parts that you can tackle individually. These include:

Physical well-being.
This means that employees are safe and protected. This also means that employees have the time and resources to take care of their physical health as well. This can mean anything from personalized health benefits to access to fitness programs.

Mental well-being.
As the pandemic made painfully clear, mental health is absolutely critical. This includes a balance between work and life to avoid burnout, clear and transparent communication, and plenty of praise and appreciation.

Financial well-being.
This goes beyond just fair and equitable pay. This means offering financial wellness resources, and fair and frequent opportunities for promotions.

Social well-being.
This means that there are opportunities for employees to foster genuine connections with their coworkers if they want to. This can also mean creating a workplace that supports parents, caregivers, and anyone with pressing needs outside of the office. But it doesn’t stop here. Having a mission, vision, and values that go beyond your bottom line also matter.

A safe and healthy workplace.
First and foremost, employees have to feel safe when they’re working. Then, managers and leaders need to take a human-first approach. This means that employees are seen as the full humans they are, not just workers who exist for 8 hours a day during the week. It doesn’t sound quite so daunting anymore, does it? Start small and evaluate frequently and you’ll be where you want to be sooner than you might think.

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